A Denver bakery has found itself at the center of an LGBT rights controversy. But this isn’t about another bakery refusing to fulfill an order for a same-sex wedding. Instead, Azucar Bakery in Denver is the subject of a Colorado civil rights investigation for declining to decorate a cake with an anti-gay message.
A customer, identified as Bill Jack, told reporters that he believes Azucar Bakery “discriminated” against him “based on my creed,” which is Christian. He filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division some time last year, though according to his statement to reporters, Jack said he wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the complaint. But the baker in question did.
Jack walked into Azucar Bakery last March and asked for two cakes, both in the shape of Bibles. That wasn’t a problem for Marjorie Silva, the bakery’s owner. It was what Jack wanted her to write on the cake: Anti-gay phrases including “God hates gays” and an image of two men holding hands, covered in a big, red “X.”
“It’s unfair that he’s accusing me of discriminating when I think he was the one that is discriminating,” Silva told NBC affiliate KUSA. She said she refused to inscribe the cakes with the requested messages and soon after received notice from the state’s Department of Regulatory Agencies that she was the subject of a religious discrimination complaint.
After initially declining to comment to reporters last week on the details of his complaint, Jack now says that Silva mis-remembered the specific phrases he asked her to inscribe.
Here’s his side of the story, from World Magazine:
In an email to WORLD, he wrote that he requested two cakes in the shape of an open Bible. He asked that the first cake show on one page, “God hates sin—Psalm 45:7,” and on the facing page, “Homosexuality is a detestable sin—Leviticus 18:22.” He requested that the second cake have on one page, “God loves sinners,” and on the facing page, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us—Romans 5:8.”
Jack added to World that he initially responded to media requests for comment with a “generic statement” because of concerns that he would have “no recourse if misquoted or if my comments are taken out of context,” following a “hatchet job” by a Denver television station that first picked up the story.
The purpose of his request, Jack explained to the evangelical publication, was to see if the Colorado Civil Rights Commission would handle what World characterized as “discrimination against Christians” the same as it had handled a previous charge that another Colorado bakery participated in “discrimination against gays.”
Jack is a founder of Worldview Academy, a nondenominational Christian organization. In his bio on the academy’s site, he describes himself as “an educator with ten years experience in public schools and 14 years with The Caleb Campaign, a creationist youth ministry.”
Silva told Denver’s Fox affiliate, KDVR, that she is a Christian and that her business “make(s) a lot of Christian cakes.”
The timing of the incident at Azucar Bakery has not gone unnoticed: In December 2013, a judge found that another Colorado bakery violated a civil rights law by refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. That decision was upheld by Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission in May.
Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., is fighting the order, the Associated Press notes.
In fact, many of Masterpiece’s supporters are drawing a direct parallel between the complaint against Azucar and the one against Masterpiece, leading them to support the “freedom of conscience” rights of both bakeries. Jeff Johnston of Colorado-based Focus on the Family, an organization that opposes same-sex marriage, told the Christian Post that “just as a Christian baker should not be required to create a cake for a same-sex ceremony, this baker should not be required to create a cake with a message that goes against her conscience.”
Colorado state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (R) told the Fox affiliate that he is sponsoring legislation to protect Azucar. While running for office, Klingenschmitt claimed that U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who is openly gay, would “bankrupt Christians who refuse to worship and endorse his sodomy,” and wanted to “join ISIS in beheading Christians, not just in Syria, right here in America.”
The potential legislation Klingenschmitt refers to was already under discussion by the state GOP, as a response to the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision and similar controversies in other states.
But there appear to be some differences between the two cases. The civil rights division will have to decide, as many LGBT advocates are arguing, whether those differences are significant enough to warrant treating each case differently.
For one thing, Silva says that she offered to accommodate Jack’s request in a way that would not require her to write the words in question in her own hand. According to KDVR, Silva proposed that her bakery make the cake with a blank Bible page and provide Jack with the frosting and piping materials needed to write his anti-gay cake message on the dessert himself.
University of Denver law professor Nancy Leong told KUSA that the accommodation offer could actually matter here. “This is not a situation where a business owner denied service to somebody,” Leong said. “She offered to accommodate him to the extent that she could. In fact, requiring her to write that message would infringe on her own free speech rights.”
Some are also turning to the court decision against Masterpiece Cakeshop, which refused business from a gay couple in search of a wedding cake. In the December 2013 decision, administrative law judge Robert N. Spencer repeatedly drew a distinction between refusing service to an individual and refusing to inscribe a specific message on a cake, noting:
Respondents argue that if they are compelled to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, then a black baker could not refuse to make a cake bearing a white-supremacist message for a member of the Aryan Nation; and an Islamic baker could not refuse to make a cake denigrating the Koran for the Westboro Baptist Church.
However, neither of these fanciful hypothetical situations proves Respondents’ point. In both cases, it is the explicit, unmistakable, offensive message that the bakers are asked to put on the cake that gives rise to the bakers’ free speech right to refuse. That, however, is not the case here, where Respondents refused to bake any cake for Complainants regardless of what was written on it or what it looked like.
Mark Silverstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Colorado, told the AP that “there’s no law that says that a cake-maker has to write obscenities in the cake just because the customer wants it.”
For now, supporters of both sides are waiting to see what the Civil Rights Division of the state’s Department of Regulatory Agencies does with the case. If the division determines that a civil rights violation occurred, KUSA notes, the case will go to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. That decision could come in the next few months.
[This story, originally published on Jan. 22, has been updated to include Bill Jack’s Jan. 27 comments. Jack, speaking to World Magazine, took issue with several media outlets (including The Washington Post) that wrote about his complaint based on Marjorie Silva’s version of events after Jack issued a generic statement to reporters.]